Rare is the hotel guest who does not ask “Where is the nearest market?”
For a visitor the local market brings to mind vibrancy, the chance to look more closely at local life and color and the hope to buy that special something evoking the locale. For the residents it means something a bit different.
The very first time I went to Friday market in Gaillac thirty years ago I thought I had walked unto a film set. The huge parking lot, Place d’Hautpoul in front of town hall was divided into four passages; one lined on both sides by living fowl ranging from chickens to guinea hens, ducks, geese, quail, turtle doves. Fresh eggs abounded, even duck eggs. Not all critters were destined for Sunday lunch; they were sold for breeding as well. Rabbits and hares of all descriptions had their places.
Another passage was consecrated to vendors selling anything and everything for the kitchen and bakery goods; the third dedicated to clothing and the fifth to flee market items and new mattresses and bits of utilitarian furniture.
The market continued unto the Place de Libération and then down the Rue Portal to the Place du Griffoul with its lovely fountain. Any and all spaces were filled with all sorts of vendors of produce, cheese, fish, meat, garden plants, etc.
A new covered market hall was built on this square. Both the square and the inside of the hall continue to be reserved for fruit and vegetables, cheeses, flowers, plants, fish and meat. Normally the few real farmers can be found on the right side of the hall, while duck products are on the second level.
For locals the weekly market was a chance to shop for products and satisfying other small needs. And above all, it was and continues to be a chance to meet friends and acquaintances and chit chat. The air is alive with gossip; market is only a success if you come home with some juicy tidbits.
No one can find fault with the second, it’s the first that has changed so significantly and needs to be examined. My husband, also known as “Hawkeyes”, spots all in his visual field. While traveling through Provence ten years ago, he remarked that many of the secondary products were the same as in Gaillac. It went in one ear and out the other. But since then it has become apparent to me that he was right. I started to wonder how this was possible, and then I looked more carefully. Under the stands hidden by colored clothes or in nearby cars are the whole sale containers and crates. By and large the vegetables sold now come from wholesalers not the local farm. Veritable home grown products stand out. Notable exceptions are organic food sellers who command very high prices apparently linked to the “labor” involved in raising their produce. The smoked sausages come from the Auvergne and the bread bears only a visual resemblance to traditional loaves. The products for the market have been “marketed’ to look like their precursors. New additions are ‘gourmet’ items produced on the ‘farm’ or in the ‘laboratoire’. Flavored oils, vinegars, garlic paste, vegetable based pâtés and the like are enticing. Naturally, quality and taste vary. I have had some of the best macaroons ever sold from a stand and some of the worst humus ever from another.
So yes, markets can still be enjoyed, but they are no longer the source for homegrown regional products as before. Enjoy the vibrancy, look out for the few genuine growers still present and then……well, there are the large supermarkets at the exit of the highway. If this is not an option, and it is not, then the search for farms selling their produce or having your own garden are the only answers.
To my mind the best markets are Montauban and Rabastens on Saturday mornings, and the almost ex-pat venue at St. Antonin Noble Val on Sunday mornings.
Now unto spring at the market and the use of these produce.